I think giving our students these types of collaborations not only opens up larger discussions but also helps prepare our students with transferable and employable skills and better prepare students for global careers.
Last spring, students enrolled in Dr. Xiangrong Liu’s Service Operations Management course at Bridgewater State University collaborated with German students studying at Heilbronn University of Applied Science to discuss sustainability practices and solutions.
Over six weeks, BSU students met virtually with Heilbronn’s Professor Dr.-Ing. Annett Grossmann and her students to compare the similarities and differences between each school’s dining services, specifically how sustainability practices are incorporated into dining hall operations.
“It was really beneficial to see how places around the world do things differently and what their sustainability practices are,” said Isabelle Darcy, ’25, one of the BSU students in Dr. Liu’s class.
One thing that struck Darcy was that at Heilbronn, the lights are turned off during the day in all the dining halls to save energy.
“They rely on the skylights and natural light during day hours which I thought was cool,” she said. “If we were to add skylights in our dining halls, that’s one way we could make a positive change.”
Students also examined the materials used for dinnerware, the food output, different types of packaging used, and the types of food on the menu.
BSU students learned that in Germany no plastic is used. Instead, all plates and silverware are made of material that can be washed and used again.
The German menu is more geared toward vegetables than what diners typically find in the United States. In some studies, a vegetarian menu has been shown to slow climate change and its effects on the environment, just as raising livestock creates greenhouse gases.
“They definitely had a lot of sustainability practices in place which allowed us to think of what practices can be implemented here to improve our dining halls,” Darcy said.
This September, some of the German students were able to travel with Dr. Grossman to BSU and see first-hand some of the things discussed during their online meetings.
During a tour of the East Campus Commons dining facility Kosta Gouziotis was quick to notice a major difference in how food is distributed at Bridgewater compared to back home in Germany.
“Here, you pay a certain amount and it’s all-you-can-eat. What you don’t eat, you throw out. But in Germany we pay by gram. So, if we don’t eat it, we essentially are wasting not just food, but our own money,” he said. “It’s an incentive to not get too much food.”
The tour also offered Staci DeSimone, general manager Bridgewater dining services, the opportunity to share some of the ways BSU’s dining facilities are implementing sustainability practices, including the addition of waste stations to recycle paper, cardboard, bottles and cans.
“We are also trying to improve, not just our food services, but how we can make a better tomorrow,” Desimone said.
Having the German students on campus was exciting and enriched the collaboration experience, Liu said.
“Working with faculty and students from another country really helps us understand other cultures and the ability to find sustainable solutions together,” she said.
The collaboration with the two schools was made possible through a Collaborative University Business Experiences (CUBEs) and Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) in Teaching grant.
“I think giving our students these types of collaborations not only opens up larger discussions but also helps prepare our students with transferable and employable skills and better prepare students for global careers,” Liu said.
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